Xi Jinping, new head of the Communist Party of China, made his first official visit outside Beijing to cities in South China's Guangdong Province over the weekend, a trip observers said signals the leadership's determination to push forward reform and opening-up.
Following a similar route to the 1992 "Southern Tour" by former leader Deng Xiaoping, who engineered China's three decades of reform and opening-up, Xi visited Shunde on Sunday after touring Shenzhen and Zhuhai since Friday, according to media reports.
In Shenzhen, Xi placed flowers at a statue of Deng at a park and visited a fishing village in Luohu, the Shekou industrial park, the headquarters of IT giant Tencent Technology and the Qianhai area, the new frontier of reform.
"The Party's Central Committee made the right decision in conducting reform and opening-up. We will continue on this road that is making the country stronger and its people richer, and we'll break new ground," the Nanjing Daily quoted Xi as saying by Deng's statue.
Huang Weiping, director of the Contemporary Chinese Politics Research Institute under Shenzhen University, said Xi's visit echoes Deng's tour 20 years ago and signals the new leadership's commitment to deepening reform and opening-up.
Shenzhen, as a pioneer in China's market economy, has set an example for other cities in economic reforms, and the new leadership is expecting more progress from the city, such as taking the lead in shifting the economic growth pattern, Huang told the Global Times.
"It is high time the Party stepped up reform and opening-up," said Huang. "And Xi chose to visit Shenzhen now because he is aware that China has just experienced a major crisis, and crisis always drives further reforms."
The case of Bo Xilai indicates a crisis in China's top-level politics, while the massive protest in Wukan exposed a crisis in governance at the grass-roots level, Huang noted.
China is faced with urgent needs to reform and challenges from both external and internal factors, according to Gong Weibin, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance.
"The world hasn't fully recovered from the financial crisis and there are increasing demands from the Chinese public on various issues, for example an honest government, more capable officials, equal access to information and resources, and a reduced wealth gap," Gong said.
Gong also hailed Xi's official visit, which indicates the determination of the leadership in fulfilling their promise of improving Party members' working style, including banning grand receptions, red-carpet welcoming ceremonies and shortening traffic control during officials' visits.
The low-profile trip to Shenzhen, recorded online by local residents who happened to encounter the entourage, gave the public hope for real change from the ruling party, which has recently promised to abandon extravagance and bureaucracy.
More than 200 local residents visiting Lotus Hill Park in Shenzhen Friday morning had a surprise encounter with Xi and his entourage during his short visit, reports said. Many said they did not know of Xi's arrival and were impressed by his approachable style.
Shenzhen police reported that no roads were sealed off when Xi's motorcade passed through the city roads on Saturday.
"Private cars were also there in the traffic. I followed the entourage for a little while, and did not see any police officers restricting traffic at crossroads," Lu Yaming, a Shenzhen resident who witnessed Xi's visit, told the Global Times.
The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) passed eight guidelines at a meeting on December 4, rejecting extravagance, reducing red tape and urging actions from officials at all levels.